After the Apocalypse

Skeletons, Milwaukee Public Museum.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Skeletons, Milwaukee Public Museum. Photo by Callen Harty.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
–T. S. Eliot

On the day the world was to have ended I spent the greater part of the morning shoveling out from a blizzard. It was back-breaking work, but it was eventually done and I was able to get out and go where I needed to go. The snow was beautiful, clinging to trees, covering everything with a soft white stillness. The world did not end. It revealed more beauty.

Throughout our history there have repeatedly been dire warnings of the end times, the horrible apocalypse that will destroy the earth and all its inhabitants. Typically there is one group that looks forward to the end of all that is and also believes that they alone will somehow be saved. There is the rapture that will take up all Christian believers while everyone else remains behind to suffer a period of tribulation, temporarily abandoned by Christ. This past week there was a group of believers in the supposed Mayan end times who went to Bugarach, a small town in France, believing that while the rest of the world would face annihilation they would be taken up in spaceships by benevolent aliens. Other groups went to other towns that for some reason were believed to be protected while everything else would be obliterated. They survived, as did the rest of the world. Inevitably the predictions of the end times are always quickly forgotten and before long a new narrative appears that is based on secret knowledge and a new group of believers prepares for the long-awaited fate.

Somehow T. S. Eliot in his poem The Hollow Men seems closer to an accurate prediction of end times–no gigantic explosion, no sudden flooding of the entire earth, no cataclysmic event, and no Supreme Being wreaking vengeance upon a frightened populace. Instead it seems more likely that it will be the result of the continuous poisoning and destruction of the planet from pollution and man’s inability to reconcile our behavior with its ultimate consequences. The way we have been going when the world ends it will be far more likely a slow agonizing death ending with the whimpering of fools.

Those who have projected the end of the world at various times have always had excuses for why they were wrong, but they have always been wrong. The reality of this most recent prediction, and it was documented by many sources all along, is that the Mayans did not predict the end of the world. No reputable scholar believed that the world would end on that day and most people worldwide didn’t either, as evidenced by the countless ironic “end of the world” parties and concerts. Even those who most clearly believe in the spiritual path of the Mayans believed not that the world would end but that a new world would begin, a world in which greed, murder, and other ills would end. It wasn’t that they believed it would all end on that date, but that it would mark the beginning of a new age, the dawn of a new era of peace and harmony.

Clearly wars have not yet ended, murders continue, people the world over are homeless and hungry. These things cannot be changed in a day. But if the end of a calendar or a several thousand year old era can awaken consciousness then it serves a purpose. At this time in the history of our earth and of man’s place in the grand scheme of things we need to awaken ourselves. We need to reach out to each other in community. We need to move ourselves toward love, peace, and caretaking of our mother earth if we are to survive, if we don’t want the planet to wind down into an agonizing ending.

There are millions of people heeding that call. I have seen many, many examples of it just in my town–citizens taking it upon themselves to tend to the homeless, to protest legislators who are not working for the people, to build community, and more. Whether it is because of the supposed Mayan new era or whether it is simply that they understand that our salvation depends upon us caring for each other and for our planet doesn’t matter. What matters is that more and more people are connecting with their hearts and connecting their hearts with their fellow beings. As long as this continues we can believe in the possibility of salvation and when the world finally does come to its ultimate end it may not be with a whimper, but a contented sigh, a smile, and knowledge that we did all we could to save the world or at least make it a better place while we are here.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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